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Views from across Iowa

Sep 12, 2013

Sioux City Journal, Sept. 8

Incentives help level playing field for Iowa


Largely because of our proximity to tax friendly South Dakota, we in northwest Iowa have a unique understanding of and appreciation for the importance of state economic development assistance.

In its 2013 State Business Tax Climate Index, the Tax Foundation ranks South Dakota number two in the nation; Iowa, 42. This ranking speaks volumes about the challenges our local and regional economic development professionals face each and every day with respect to growing the economy in our corner of Iowa.

Including state economic development assistance as part of a package of incentives was key to the $1.7 billion expansion by CF Industries of its Port Neal fertilizer plant and the $26 million, two-phase local expansion by Sabre Industries. From capital investment to job retention to job creation, including construction jobs, one cannot overstate the importance of these projects to our local economy.

“The city of Sioux City’s successful effort to retain Sabre Industries, in a hyper-competitive, multi-state selection process, is an outstanding example of how both local and state economic development incentives can be used to leverage private capital investment and create hundreds of new jobs,” Siouxland Chamber of Commerce President Chris McGowan told us.

McGowan said incentives typically are introduced to negotiations late in the process.

“When necessary,” he said, “they can be used to level the playing field and help bring jobs, capital investment, and economic opportunity to our communities.”

Understandably, large incentives for major projects grab headlines, but state assistance supports many smaller northwest Iowa projects, as well. One key tool for a border region like ours is the Targeted Jobs Program. Renewed by the Legislature in May for five years, it allows qualifying businesses to apply for state withholding tax credits if they plan to relocate or expand in Iowa, provided they are creating or retaining jobs. According to a December 2012 report by the Iowa Economic Development Authority, 39 projects worth $37.6 million qualified for the program statewide from fiscal year 2007 through fiscal year 2012. Sioux City had the largest total awards at $12.9 million and the highest number of projects at 27.

Also, while incentives for the $1.4 billion Orascom Construction Industries project in Lee County continue to stir controversy, it’s important to remember the lion’s share of assistance provided by the state Economic Development Authority goes to companies located in Iowa.

We acknowledge reasonable questions exist about the Orascom deal and others. The Branstad administration absolutely must do proper homework before offering incentives and should be able to explain and justify their use. Still, we are comfortable with an overall aggressive, competitive strategy by the administration with respect to incentives, and we believe this approach is paying dividends – not simply for Northwest Iowa, but for all of Iowa. As a whole, our state appears to be on the right track.

Until this state dramatically improves its overall tax environment for business (property tax reform passed by the Legislature this year was a positive step in the right direction), incentives — sometimes big incentives — will be a fact of life if we want success within the intensely competitive arena of economic development.

Professionals will tell you this: Economic development incentives cannot make a bad deal good, they can only make a good deal better. In other words, the state of Iowa must have many other key pieces in place first: a favorable regulatory climate, land, transportation infrastructure, competitively priced natural gas and electricity, municipal utilities, high-speed communication networks, strong educational institutions, and a skilled and available labor pool.

Generally speaking, if economic development incentives build on what we have and help push a project over the finish line for Iowa, then we believe the money was well spent.

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Iowa City Press-Citizen, Sept. 6

Move forward with law against elder abuse


It’s frustrating that Iowa, a state with a rapidly growing senior and elderly population, doesn’t already have a law focused on elder abuse — that is, a comprehensive law that specifically addresses the unique needs of all older adults who are victims of abuse, neglect and exploitation.

Iowa does have a more general dependent abuse law dealing with cases of physical or sexual abuse, financial exploitation and denial of care. But for the Iowa Department of Human Services to intervene in cases of suspected abuse under that law, there must be:

• A dependent adult: Someone whose mental or physical condition makes him unable to perform or obtain services necessary to meet his essential human needs and depends on the assistance of another person.

• A caretaker: That other person, related or non-related, who has the responsibility for the protection, care and custody of the dependent adult.

• A specific allegation of physical abuse, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, financial exploitation, denial of critical care by the caretaker or self-denial of critical care by the dependent adult.

Thus, the current system, unfortunately, does not address the needs of older victims of abuse or exploitation who are not considered “dependent” and who do not have a specific “caretaker.” Nor does the current law address the needs of seniors and elderly persons who are the victims of constant verbal or psychological abuse or abandonment.

Unfortunately, groups and organizations — such as the Elder Abuse Intervention Coalition and the Heritage Agency on Aging — are finding that without a more comprehensive law in place, a growing number of very troubling cases of elder abuse are falling through the societal cracks. And various studies of elder abuse over the past decade suggest that for every one case of elder abuse actually reported, there are somewhere between five and 14 case cases that go unreported.

Over the past few years, some progress has been made legislatively. At the end of this year’s legislative session, for example, the approved Health and Human Services budget bill included provisions to continue the state’s Elder Abuse Task Force and to create a Legislative Interim Committee to work on proposed legislation that would address the task force’s findings.

But there still are many unanswered questions about how such a law would work once passed: Who will be in charge of enforcing it? Will additional money be made available those agencies charged with enforcing the new law? What additional training will be required of those charged with enforcing the new law? Et cetera.

That’s why the Johnson County Task Force on Aging held a community forum on elder abuse in the Coralville Public Library. The panel included several people well versed in the back and forth of this political discussion — from state politicians, to members of the Elder Abuse Task Force, to University of Iowa professors, to the regional protective services coordinator from Heritage Agency on Aging.

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The Des Moines Register, Sept. 4

Marijuana decision rightly puts focus on states


The Obama administration’s announcement that it will not aggressively enforce federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized recreational use of the drug is more symbolic than substantive. It is, however, evidence of the nation’s waning appetite for the war on drugs.

The U.S. Justice Department memorandum was prompted by voter-approved constitutional amendments in Washington and Colorado to legalize personal possession and use of marijuana. Those state laws conflict with acts of Congress that make it a federal crime to distribute and possess marijuana. Thus, the administration avoided a confrontation between the feds and the states, at least for now.

That’s a good thing. If the people of Colorado and Washington in their wisdom decide to legalize recreational use of marijuana, it’s hard to see why the federal government should interfere with that decision.

The administration’s policy is not exactly new, however.

The Justice Department took a similar position with states that legalized use of marijuana for medical purposes, and the memo notes that “the federal government has traditionally relied on states and local law enforcement agencies to address marijuana activity through enforcement of their own narcotics laws.”

The Justice Department rightly deemed it a waste of resources to go after individuals for possession of “small amounts of marijuana for personal use on private property.”

That is the way it should work. Historically, local crime enforcement was the exclusive province of the state police, prosecutors and courts. The federal government’s role was to assist local authorities when major criminal syndicates cross state lines or when there is a national interest.

It’s hard to see a national interest in federal prosecutions of small-time drug users and dealers. That is why U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last month announced he was directing federal prosecutors around the country to turn their focus away from low-level drug offenders.

This does not mean the federal government will entirely back off from enforcing drug laws, nor should it. There is a difference between marijuana and heroin, for example.

But there must be a clear federal interest. The Justice Department memo cites several such interests, including preventing distribution of marijuana to minors and to states that have not legalized the drug. The department did not foreclose federal intervention if states do not aggressively enforce local laws to protect those interests.

The Justice Department memo drew sharp rebukes from predictable sources, including state and local law-enforcement and advocates of tough enforcement of drug laws. Otherwise the news was mostly greeted with a yawn.

This is evidence that the nation, if not totally convinced on drug legalization, is ready for an end to the war on drugs. This misdirected war has come at a huge cost to law enforcement, courts and prisons, not to mention people and families unnecessarily ensnared in the criminal justice system.

A growing consensus is that drug abuse should be seen as a treatment issue, not strictly as a crime. Certainly not a crime that requires the resources of the federal government, as the Obama administration policy rightly makes clear.

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